Frida Kahlo by Guillermo Kahlo
“Fridamania” refers to the ever-growing fascination with the hallucinatory art and tumultuous life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907–54). The child of a German Jewish father and a Catholic mestiza mother (part-Indigenous and part-European), Kahlo had hoped to become a doctor, but a terrible bus accident at age 18 left her near death. She recovered, but despite numerous operations she spent the rest of her life in pain.
The paintings Kahlo made during her lengthy convalescence opened a new path. She was especially encouraged by the much older, internationally famous fellow Mexican painter Diego Rivera, with whom she fell in love. Their stormy life together and apart formed the basis for many of her pictures, as well as books, plays, and films about Kahlo.
Ironically, her very brief New York Times obituary identified her as “Frida Kahlo, wife of Diego Rivera,” later noting “She was also a painter.” Today, Kahlo is better known than Rivera as an artist, especially in the United States. Labeled a surrealist because of the fantastical, often nightmarish quality of her paintings, Kahlo always countered that she didn’t paint dreams: She painted her own reality. Despite her physical challenges, Kahlo remained politically active in Communist causes and was bold in challenging the social mores of the time.
Art historian Nancy G. Heller examines Kahlo’s short life—including the reasons she loved wearing traditional Mexican clothing, accessories, and hairstyles—and her work. She looks beyond the famous self-portraits to also include landscapes, still lifes, and other Kahlo subjects.
Heller is a specialist in the history of women artists and is professor emerita of art at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.